Grandmother finds life tough on the street
Eabametoong grandmother Deborah Waboose has been living on the street in Thunder Bay for “a long time, years.” Waboose and three other street people originally from First Nations across northwestern Ontario spoke about their experiences on the street this past Thanksgiving week.
Life on the street in Thunder Bay has been “very tough” for a grandmother from Eabametoong.
“It’s getting a lot worse now,” Deborah Waboose said on a sunny Thanksgiving Day in the Intercity area. “We’ve lost so many people in the past month and a half. They’re gone — died.”
Waboose, who has eight children and four grandchildren, doesn’t recall exactly how long she has been living on the streets, but she said it was “a long time, years.”
“I have family here but I don’t depend on them,” Waboose said. “I’d rather not go to them and say ‘Can I stay with you.’”
Although Waboose has a tent and blankets set up in Thunder Bay, she recently gave them to her brother.
“There’s no place for us,” Waboose said. “I’ve been looking for a place for a long time now, and they try to say, ‘Oh, it’s already gone.’”
Waboose knows about 40 people who are living on the street, but she said there are others as well.
“I’m not the only one living on the streets,” Waboose said. “We all stick together and stand by each other and help each other out in any way we can.”
Whenever the weather turns bad, Waboose usually heads to one of a number of sheltered areas where she can huddle under a blanket with other street people to keep warm.
“There’s places where you can stay out of the rain,” Waboose said. “But if it gets too cold, you have to go to the Shelter (House). But if there is no room at the Shelter, everybody gets turned away.”
Waboose would like to see more places in Thunder Bay for homeless people to go when shelter is required.
“I used to have my dog, but it got taken away from me,” Waboose said. “When I went to sleep, he would stay right beside me. He was very protective.”
Waboose usually walks around all day trying to find water or juice to drink and food to eat.
“I go to McDonalds and they will give me water there,” Waboose said.
She doesn’t notice the holidays when she is on the street.
“I just think it is a Sunday,” Waboose said.
Waboose remembers seeing street people years ago during visits to Thunder Bay, but she never thought she would end up living on the street.
“I used to say I’m never going to be like that — the next thing you know, I’m out here on the streets,” Waboose said. “You know, those (street) people are totally human, they’re giving. They watch out for each other. They will never let you down in any way.”
Waboose wants to get off the street and be an advocate for homeless people.
“We’re being judged by what we do,” Waboose said. “We’re alcoholics and drug addicts. We’re not bad people, we’re just trying to survive.”
Waboose said “a lot of” street people will break the law to get arrested for the winter months.
“They will go steal and try to get caught,” Waboose said. “At least they get three meals a day.”
Waboose encourages youth to stay in school and listen to their parents and Elders.
“Don’t come live out here on the street,” Waboose said.
Eabametoong’s Mike Drake also encourages youth to stay away from living on the street.
“You don’t want to live like this,” Drake said. “Not in the streets.”
Drake usually spends part of his day looking for empties he can recycle for money.
“I’m just looking around for some change,” Drake said early one morning in a park area. “I’m doing good, anyway.”
Although Drake has recently been sleeping at a relative’s home of the woman he was with in the park, he usually gets up early and heads over to a coffee shop.
“We went over to Tim Hortons and got tea,” Drake said.
“Something warm,” said the woman, who did not want to be interviewed.
Drake usually eats whatever he can find.
“Sometimes we go to the Shelter House,” Drake said. “But it’s the same thing all the time, pasta or peanut butter sandwiches.”
Drake has lived in a number of different homes while in Thunder Bay, including his latest home on Cummins Street, where he was evicted.
“I don’t even know what’s going to happen this winter,” Drake said. “Last winter I had a place, but it didn’t even last that long.”
Mishkeegogamang’s Ronald Hunter has been living on the street for the past two weeks since he arrived in Thunder Bay on a medical visit.
“I’ve been sleeping outside in the bush,” Hunter said while lined up for a Thanksgiving meal at the Dew Drop Inn Soup Kitchen. “It’s just like camping. I just wake up every morning and look for what I need to survive.”
Hunter has family members in Thunder Bay, but he doesn’t want to “aggravate” them.
“I’d be an inconvenience,” Hunter said.
Hunter plans to head back home to Mishkeegogamang, where he has a home.
Although Sabaskong’s William DeBungie now has a home at the Salvation Army, he had previously been living on the street for about four years.
“It was pretty hard,” DeBungie said while also lined up for a Thanksgiving meal at the Dew Drop Inn Soup Kitchen. “I was just sleeping anywhere, stairways, hallways, bathtubs, bathrooms.”
DeBungie said it was difficult to ask for money to survive while living on the street.
“I don’t want to ask for it anymore,” DeBungie said. “It’s not easy.”
DeBungie said his life on the street was better in the winter.
“I had warmer clothing,” DeBungie said. “I hid in the bank entrances.”
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